Have you ever heard the expression “Oh, no, someone is WRONG on the Internet”? Shocking, of course, but it does happen some times. That is why it is important to occasionally review the basics of SAFE canning, both pressure canning and boiling water bath canning.
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Before I do so, let me say that canning is not the only safe, effective and cost-effective method of food storage.
It is, however, my favourite.
My husband has been known to tell the children that they shouldn’t sit still too long or Maman might can them up in jars.
Dehydrating is very useful, if you have the climate or the access to inexpensive electricity (we don’t have either!).
Pickling, fermenting, cold storage – these are all good ways to extend the usable lives of our food. However, most of these require a cool cellar, or the appropriate climate, or lots of electricity. Anyone can do canning.
No, I don’t list freezing in this. While it is certainly possible to run a freezer on solar electricity, making it independent of the power grid, I am not positive that many people are doing so. In general, using a freezer means being connected to the grid. I’m pro food storage, but anti grid! 🙂
Before you begin canning, you need to know WHAT you are canning. That’s because the most important information for canning is the pH level of your food. LOW ACID foods are all vegetables and all meat. Yes, it’s that simple. If it’s a vegetable or a protein, it is low acid. HIGH ACID foods are fruits, pickles, jellies/jam. Then there are tomatoes. They sit right at the border between low acid and high acid, so they are treated slightly differently.
Canning High Acid Food
The high acid foods are the SAFEST foods to can when you are learning to put up food. (With that said, I think I started with stewing beef, so this is a Do As I Say moment ..
I was told “If you pressure can your jams and pickles, they’ll keep. Otherwise, they need to be tossed out after a year.”
It’s not true.
The quality of ANY canned food, unless stored in ideal conditions, might degrade after a year. It might not, too. I’ve kept boiling water bath canned strawberries on a cupboard shelf and they were bright red and delicious two years later. My personal experience is that *properly* canned food will keep just as long as the seal remains intact.
There is NO need to pressure can fruits, pickles or jams. All you’re doing is hurting the quality of your food. I tried pressure canning fruit, thinking it would be easier. Instead, it just made nasty, dark, overcooked fruit.
What do I use for boiling water bath canning? While it is technically possible to use any pot that is large and deep enough, that usually means a canning pot. They’re not very expensive, so get one that is intended for your jars. My mother was using a deep pot and burning her fingers every time she pulled a hot jar out until I bought her a water bath canner and kit for her birthday. She had a “Where have you been all my life?” moment.
Canning Low Acid Food
Here’s the catch, though – vegetables and meat can ONLY be safely processed in a pressure canner. That’s a pressure CANNER, not a pressure COOKER. Pressure cookers are just not designed for pressure canning.
There are no shortcuts here. If you boiling water bath low acid foods (and I certainly have known people who do so), you are playing Russian Roulette with your food.
So what do I use for pressure canning? Although a lot of people swear by the All-American, and I have Old Order Mennonite friends who use and love it, I have to admit I’m still using my far less expensive Presto pressure canner. There are a few things that you need if you’re going to use it. Just to save your own sanity, make sure to get a three piece pressure regulator, an extra canning rack and a canning tool kit.(Should you use an All-American? Yes! Honestly, they are a better canner since they don’t use rubber gaskets and are made to last forever. I simply have no experience with using one.)
Tomatoes are an oddball. Are they a fruit or a vegetable? Are they low acid or high acid? Without using a pH tester to check your tomato sauce, you are left with two options – either treat it as a low acid food and pressure can it, or add acid in the form of citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar and then treat it as a high acid food. (Low acid tomatoes taste better, and modern hybrids are generally grown to be low acid and tasty.) I have done both, and there are benefits to both ways. One thing, though – if you add meat or other vegetables to your tomato sauce, you have turned it into a low acid food and you definitely need to pressure can it.
Now those are the BASICS. Any questions?
Here’s the takeaway.
Boiling water bath can HIGH acid foods: pickles, jams, jellies and fruit.
Pressure can LOW acid foods: meat and unpickled vegetables including (usually) tomatoes.
Sum it up – what do I NEED to pressure can?
- A safe, modern pressure canner. Two of the most popular ones are Presto 23 quart pressure canner and All American 921 21-1/2-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner The Presto is the most popular, but survivalists and preppers might want the consider the All-American, which does not need replacement gaskets every year.
- A second canning rack for the Presto (the All-American comes with two)
- A canning kit with magnetic lid lifter, jar lifter and more
- Optionally, but I recommend it, a stainless steel canning funnel
- If you have a Presto canner, a three piece weighted regulator because the canner really should come with one but does not. Having an extra sealing Ring on hand is also wise because my experience is that they fail when you have vital canning to do.
- Jars. Do not re-use glass jars from jam and other condiments. They are made for single use and are not designed to withstand pressure canning a second time. I mostly use pint jars but you can also use half-pints or quarts. The first jars you buy will come with lids and rings. After that, buy canning lids. The reusable canning lids are more expensive but are worth the price.
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today
The initial output is fairly high, but every item in that list will last you for *years*. Stay tuned for a step-by-step on safely canning vegetables.